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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                  {21
pathetic face of Klaydia Mikhailovna. Strangely enough,
he remembered nothing, and he even wondered why the
face of this good-looking, kind-hearted, fair-haired
woman looked anxious and Inquiring. Seeing that he had
opened his eyes, her face beamed and she softly pressed
his hand under the blanket.
"You've jDeen simply splendid," she said, and at once
took his wrist to feel his pulse.
"What's she talking about?" Alexei wondered. Then
he felt a pain higher up the leg than before, and it was
not the former burning, tearing, throbbing pain, but a
dull ache, as if cords had been tied tightly below his
knees. Suddenly he realised from the folds of the blanket
that his body was shorter than it had been before, and
in a flash he remembered: the dazzling white room, Vasily
Vasilyevich's fierce growling, the dull thuds in the
enamelled pail. "Already?" he wondered rather listless-
ly, and said to the nurse with a forced smile:
"It looks as though I have grown shorter."
It was a wry smile, more like a grimace. Klavdia
Mikhailovna gently smoothed his hair and said:
"Never mind, dear, you'll feel easier now."
"Yes. Less weight to carry."
"Don't! Don't say that, dear! But you really have been
splendid. Some shout, and some even have to be strapped
down. But you did not make a sound. Oh, this horrible
At this the angry voice of the Commissar was heard in
the evening twilight:
"Stop your wailing, now! Give him these letters, nurse.
Some fellows are lucky. Makes me envious. Fancy getting
so many letters all at once!"
The Commissar handed Meresyev a batch of letters.
They were from Alexei's wing; they bore different dates,
but for some reason had been delivered at the same time.
And now, lying with his feet amputated, Alexei read
these friendly messages which told him of a life, far away,
full of arduous labour, hardships and dangers, which
drew him like a magnet, but which was now lost to him
for ever. He eagerly read the big news and the minor
events they wrote to him about from his wing: that a
political offcer at Corps Ssadquartas had let it drop